IGS Fellows in the World: Local Government Fellowship

Historic Time for a Fellowship

This summer I had the opportunity to work in the Office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. I worked remotely from home as the Data Fellow for the Mayor’s Innovation Team (i-team). The i-team uses data analysis and human centered design to solve and advise on the most pressing issues facing Los Angeles, including gender equity, homelessness, and public health. Much of my work revolved around the most clear and present problem in Los Angeles and the world at large: COVID-19. 

It was a bizarre time and place to begin a fellowship. The onset of coronavirus had conglomerated my entire family under one roof. Both of my parents, along with three out of my five sisters were working remotely. A lack of quiet space in the home had me working outside on the patio for my introductory days with the team. Luckily, the first couple of days were pretty slow. My onboarding consisted of taking over a few simple tasks for our Daily COVID-19 Data Reports and having virtual coffees with each of the team members to get to know everyone. One of my bosses assured me that although the first few days would be slow, my fellowship was sure to pick up steam fast. She was not lying.

Around late May, one of two data scientists on the i-team announced that he would be leaving the Mayor’s Office. Over the next month, he would work to transition most of his daily tasks for the city’s Daily COVID-19 Data Reports to me! At this time, many stressors started to collide at once for me: my laptop began to malfunction when working with the large datasets; cabin fever began to set in to my crowded household, especially given the setting of coronavirus with limited outside social interaction; all the while my role on the team was quickly expanding.

I’m grateful that in this isolating time, I was able to lean on my team for help. My bosses were very understanding of my situation and eased the pace of the transition. By the middle of June, I successfully took over a large portion of our daily data responsibilities for coronavirus while concurrently working to reconcile and reformat data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s (LAHSA) Demographic Survey. I moved my work station inside as two of my sisters returned to their apartments and I got a brand new laptop that could handle the capacity of my workload.

From that point on, I was able to contribute more new slides to our daily data deck, including granular analysis of testing data by age, race, and symptoms and economic analysis of county-wide spending and city sales tax data. I investigated the older homeless population’s responses to LAHSA’s Demographic Survey to help understand the most vulnerable demographic in the face of COVID-19. I inputted data from our COVID-19 reports directly into Mayor Eric Garcetti’s speeches and wrote data analysis excerpts for the Chief Innovation Officer to insert into his briefings.

As I finally started to feel acclimated and like a genuine member of the team, my sense of relief and satisfaction was juxtaposed with the worsening of our COVID-19 numbers. Day after day from late June through mid July, I witnessed the increase of Los Angeles City/County’s positive testing rates, weekly cases/deaths, and hospitalizations. This tragedy was compounded when viewed through an equity lens. This pandemic is set against a backdrop of racial injustice with the murder or George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other black people at the hands of police. These brutal killings were critical moments in our country’s reawakening to the topic of racial justice, and being faced with the racial data made eminently clear the intersection between race and public health. I saw the share of deaths and cases rise for Black and Latinx individuals. Latinos and Native Americans are testing positive at rates three to four times that of White and Asian individuals. These are sobering figures to report every week, but making them visible was/is of paramount importance as we begin to recognize racism as an economic and public health crisis. 

Throughout my time with the i-team, we witnessed and endured a historic pandemic and the beginning of a momentous racial justice movement borne out of centuries of racial inequity. I want to thank all my team members for everything they have taught me and their strength throughout these trying times. I also want to thank the Matsui Local Government Fellowship for helping to support me this summer. Reflecting on my journey with the i-team has made me extremely grateful for the trust the team put in me every day to deliver this crucial information to Angelenos and the world. It also makes me proud of my accomplishments and how much I have learned by doing this summer. I’m thankful that I was able to be a part of this team that worked to provide essential information to the public in a critical juncture of safety and equality.